Yeger, Eichenstein Send Letters in Support of Yeshivas

Councilman Kalman Yeger (L) and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein

As part of its continuing coverage of the battle over government mandates in the yeshiva curriculum, Hamodia is publishing letters sent by community leaders to the New York State Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Betty Rosa against newly proposed regulations of private schools. More than a quarter-million letters have been submitted by yeshiva supporters opposing the proposed guidelines. We have previously published letters from Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel and Prof. Aaron Twerski.

Today we present letters submitted by New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger and State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein.

Letter from Councilman Yeger:

Dear Commissioner Rosa,

I have the great honor and responsibility of representing tens of thousands of New York children attending scores of non-public schools in New York City, and their parents who made informed choices concerning their children’s upbringing and education. I write because I have grave concerns over the department’s proposed regulations relating to “substantially equivalent” instruction for non-public school students. While these proposed regulations purport to apply to all non-public schools, we should be honest enough to agree that this proposal – and the yearslong battle by the department preceding this proposal – are all about yeshivas.


Yeshivas have educated generations of students, including myself, with the vast majority being highly productive members of society in virtually every business and profession. With my yeshiva education as a foundation, I graduated college with honors, and ten years after graduation, returned to continue my studies by earning a law degree. I am the child of yeshiva graduates who were the first generation in their families to attend college, and I am one of four attorneys in my immediate family – all yeshiva graduates.


The success of the yeshiva-educated can primarily be traced to the excellent well-rounded education provided by these schools, but also to the choices made by families like mine. No two yeshiva-educated children are the same, because no two families are the same.


Looking deeply into what yeshivas are about is a necessary exercise before you adopt these proposed regulations. The fact is that there are hardly any cases of criminal behavior or illegal drug use in yeshivas.  We frequently read about gun use, violence between children, and, frankly, the danger to children attending New York City public schools.  (Calling it “danger” is by no means hyperbolic, as society surely has the right to demand that its children face zero incidents of violence while attending school, and that is simply not the case in the public school system where I serve.)  Crimes committed by youths are rarely committed by yeshiva attendees.  In New York City, public school parents have reason to fear sending their child to school – a fear of violence at worst, or a fear of a lackluster education at minimum.

Yeshivas have longer school days and longer school years than public schools.  Yeshiva children learn critical thinking and how to apply it before public schools even begin teaching children how to read. While there are those who don’t like it, the religious education provided by yeshivas goes hand-in-hand with secular education to provide the full and well-rounded educational experience that has proven successful.  Your proposal offers no recognition to the robust learning experience yeshivas provide through religious studies – but it is in fact those very studies that form the basis for the well-rounded educational and life-learning experience our yeshiva children receive.  Just one example is the fact that it is the rare yeshiva student that exits yeshiva speaking only one language; in fact, being conversant in two or even three languages is the norm.

Your proposed regulations have the effect of making yeshivas the functional equivalent of public schools.  Perhaps a better direction would be to have the public school experience be “substantially equivalent” to the yeshiva experience: a longer and fuller day, curricula focused around deep critical thinking, and life-lessons on how to comport one’s self in a civilized society, to name a few.

Every parent has a legal, moral and societally-guaranteed right to choose the means of educating their children. Parents who choose yeshivas frequently make great sacrifice to pay high tuition rates to ensure their child receives the best possible standard of education – and receive no government assistance, while also paying for a public school system they don’t use.

I vehemently oppose the proposed regulations issued by your department. These regulations would empower local school authorities to force their way deep into private school operations with an unprecedented incursion into curricula – such as has been done to Jewish education by repressive governments for centuries.  In New York City, the local school authority is the New York City Department of Education, which we may surely agree has more than enough to do with its own schools, before it can find time to mix into others.

It is imperative that the State of New York, home to people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and religions, respects the rights of parents to choose the educational opportunities for their children.  These schools are called private schools for a reason – because they are private, and the government must have no role in their operation.

I am also extremely troubled that these proposed regulations would provide any self-determined “aggrieved” party (i.e., “[p]ersons considering themselves aggrieved”) the right to appeal a determination of substantial equivalency by a local school authority, even if they would otherwise have no legal standing.  This does nothing more than provide a pathway for every malcontent who hates yeshivas to torment yeshiva existence. The last several years has shown this to be exactly the case.

Locus standi is the longstanding principle that one is granted the right to protect only their own rights. In other words, one must have standing which is personal to themselves, with sufficient connection to the harm being complained of. The proposed regulations would flip standing on its head, and by default, grant standing to anyone, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. This is an outrageous attack on the existence of yeshivas, in effect, giving a government weapon to anyone who hates yeshivas – and there are many who do.

Substantial equivalency has been New York law since 1895.  While there may be individual schools – surely more public than private – that need improvement, there is no reason to radically alter the relationship between the state and private schools that has worked well since the 19th century.  Indeed, private schools have had an admirable record, both academically and in preparing their students for life.

While I believe a dialogue on this urgent topic should continue, for now I urge you to set aside these proposed regulations. Yeshiva education has succeeded for more than a century in this state without government interference. Thank you for taking the time to review my comments. I look forward to our continued dialogue on how we can use the lessons of yeshiva education to better our public school system.

Sincerely,

Kalman Yeger

New York City Councilman

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Letter from Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein:

Dear Commissioner Rosa, Chancellor Brown, Vice Chancellor Finn, and Regent Members:

I write to you in opposition to the proposed Substantial Equivalency guidelines released in March.

I am a proud product of the yeshiva educational system. I also serve as a member of the New York State Assembly, representing the neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood. As such, I am in a unique position to write to you regarding the State Education Department’s proposed regulations for nonpublic schools.

It is my honor to represent dozens of yeshivas in my district. These schools have educated tens of thousands of students, including myself, with a well-rounded education, preparing them to live life as productive citizens. Graduates of these schools are found in all walks of life, including teachers, professionals, businesspeople, entrepreneurs and are also present at all levels of government.

Jewish education is what has sustained the Jewish people for the last 2,000 years. There is no question in my mind that the phenomenal growth of the Orthodox Jewish community in America is due almost exclusively to the yeshiva education system. I, myself, am a proud grandson of four Holocaust survivors who came to this country with virtually nothing yet were determined to pick up the pieces and restart their lives here.

My story is not unique; an entire generation of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who have persevered and prospered in this great country are a testament to the value of the Yeshiva education they received. Therefore, I am quite troubled by these new regulations. As a parent, I have a legal and constitutional right to choose the appropriate school for my children in accordance with my personal and religious preferences. I have chosen yeshiva education for them, because that is what I know to be in their best interest.

The yeshiva system is not monolithic. While virtually all schools offer a dual curriculum, some have a heavier emphasis on Jewish studies than others. While each yeshiva is unique, they all share a commitment to an education steeped in the traditions and values of our rich Jewish history and culture. That is something that no yeshiva parent – including myself – is willing to forego. We make this choice with our own pocketbooks, digging deep to pay tuition fees.

My colleagues in the legislature and I work hard to provide some resources to non-public schools, but it is only a fraction of the true cost of nonpublic school education. These schools are sustained by hefty tuition fees paid for by parents and generous philanthropic donors who give their dollars willingly as they know our continued future depends on the success of these schools. Furthermore, while your department is quick to regulate and strengthen oversight, unfortunately it’s rare that you’re willing to provide resources to better enhance these schools.

As the old saying goes, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The proposed regulations would allow local school authorities to have unprecedented control over yeshivas and other non-public schools. Parents choose these schools because they trust them to provide the best education for their children, and the government should have no place regulating them. The success of these schools speaks for itself. Students perform very well academically, while substance abuse and crime rates are virtually zero.

I am also troubled that the regulations give no credence to the Judaic studies department. These studies are a serious academic pursuit, teaching critical thinking and textual analysis. Yeshiva students as young as 11 and 12 are doing college level textual analysis that is rarely found in the secular world. Judaic studies stresses ethics and character building and molds students into upright and upstanding citizens. It is beyond mindboggling that ‘educators’ choose to dismiss the highest level of educational critical thinking.

Yeshiva education also places an emphasis on the importance of giving to others. In fact, in my neighborhood there is a culture of giving and doing for others. Volunteer organizations exist for almost every human service, including volunteer ambulances, providing for the needy, visiting and sustaining patients in hospitals, among others too many to enumerate. These charitable values are instilled in our children at a very young age through the yeshiva system.

This entire attack on Jewish education was started by just a few disgruntled individuals who unfortunately did not have a positive experience. Instead of looking inward, they decided that the entire system was at fault. Driven by animus, they are looking to do more than improve Jewish education. They are attacking the very essence of the beautiful community that I have the privilege of representing.

This brings me to my next point. The proposed regulations state that any “aggrieved” party can appeal a Substantial Equivalency determination, even when they have no legal standing. This will just open the door to some malcontents to spend their days and weeks filing complaints. Local School Authorities will then be forced to spend time and resources on frivolous investigations, instead of concentrating on their core mission of making sure the schools in their district are properly educating their children, including their own failing public schools. While there may be individual schools – both public and private – that sometimes fall short of the standards demanded of them, there is no reason to radically overhaul an entire system that has worked well for so many years.

The nonpublic school community has worked well with the department over the years. I commend you and previous commissioners for convening a Commissioner’s Advisory Council in which views on the private school community are shared with the department with the goal of providing the best possible outcomes for these schools. Why not continue with this system, instead of implementing the unnecessary upheaval that these regulations would cause? Our goal should always be a shared responsibility to enhance the quality of education for the next generation of students at both public and private schools.

It is my belief that yeshivas are doing just that, and that the department’s role should be to support them, not to uproot them. I remain committed to continuing dialogue on this most crucial issue. If you are truly interested in partnering with me in this effort, I would be happy to work with you and educate you on why our yeshiva system works so well. I assure you it will be a enlightening experience.

Feel free to call my office at (718) 853-9616 or to email me at EichensteinS@nyassembly.gov, it would be my pleasure to continue this conversation with you at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Simcha Eichenstein

Member of Assembly, District 48

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